October 30, 2013 by Heidi
Title: The Mysterious Howling [Goodreads]
Author: Maryrose Wood [Website|Twitter]
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Standing: Book one in The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.
Genre: Middle Grade, Historical
Published: March 1st, 2010 by Listening Library
Format: Audiobook; 5 hrs, 28 min.
Source: Free download from Sync, summer 2013.
Found running wild in the forest of Ashton Place, the Incorrigibles are no ordinary children: Alexander, age ten or thereabouts, keeps his siblings in line with gentle nips; Cassiopeia, perhaps four or five, has a bark that is (usually) worse than her bite; and Beowulf, age somewhere-in-the-middle, is alarmingly adept at chasing squirrels.
Luckily, Miss Penelope Lumley is no ordinary governess. Only fifteen years old and a recent graduate of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope embraces the challenge of her new position. Though she is eager to instruct the children in Latin verbs and the proper use of globes, first she must help them overcome their canine tendencies.
But mysteries abound at Ashton Place: Who are these three wild creatures, and how did they come to live in the vast forests of the estate? Why does Old Timothy, the coachman, lurk around every corner? Will Penelope be able to teach the Incorrigibles table manners and socially useful phrases in time for Lady Constance’s holiday ball? And what on earth is a schottische?
If ever there were a narrator and a book that were meant to be, surely it was Maryrose Wood’s The Mysterious Howling and Katherine Kellgren. Here we have one of those rare cases where every stylistic choice by both the author and audio production marry so perfectly as to leave the story improved rather than merely recorded. Katherine Kellgren’s ability to embrace the stories she narrates right down to the most ridiculous of howls, makes her perfect for this book. I’ve said before that I’d choose her for any British Middle Grade, but thus far this is easily my favorite.
While I’ve read one of Maryrose Wood’s books previously, The Poison Diaries, there was something about it lacking that extra verve that makes a book really special. In The Mysterious Howling I see that extra something spark to life in the form of one Miss Penelope Lumly and three quite incorrigible children. Maryrose Wood narrates The Mysterious Howling with that matter-of-fact type witt and charm that I fall for every time. She sweeps the untidy questions of proper time period and language neatly under the rug by openly acknowledging that yes, her readers are most certainly modern and not of Victorian times, thereby excusing certain turns of phrase and explanatory notes. This is a language that welcomes readers with open arms and gathers them in to hear a most ridiculous story of children who were well indeed raised by wolves.
One of the aspects I love most about The Mysterious Howling is the reality that the main characters aren’t really the Incorrigibles (Alexander, Beowulf, and Cassiopeia), but rather their young governess–Penelope Lumly. Penelope herself is a young woman of only 15, making The Mysterious Howling perfect for those children residing somewhere between the attempt to be adults and acting like wolf children which is really much more fun. Penelope is kind, unassuming, and verily unflappable. Brought forth from the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, Penelope is uncertain (but hopeful) of her own parentage, and endlessly compassionate toward those poor young waifs who someone abandoned in the woods.
The Mysterious Howling is laugh-out-loud funny, utterly charming, and holds just that twinge of mystery to keep a reader salivating for more. It’s a stay-at-home type of adventure where instead of embarking on the world the characters uncover plenty to thrill about within their own walls. Maryrose Wood approaches readers with a tongue-in-cheek honesty that reveals both the ridiculous and brutally true in a way that makes us want to gather up these lost little souls (Penelope included) and welcome them into our own hearts and homes.
Clearly, I highly recommend The Mysterious Howling. It goes on that special shelf with my favorite middle grade novels that fill my heart up and warm it just right. I particularly recommend the audio–it’s certainly one that a family could happily listen to together on any road trip, with something to humor parents and children alike.
Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Absolutely, I’m quite looking forward to the continuing adventures of Miss Penelope Lumly and the Incorrigibles, and most certainly via audio as the sequels are also narrated by the fantastic Katherine Kellgren.
Recommended for: Readers who love precocious children–particularly those such as the Hardscrabbles in Ellen Potter’s The Kneebone Boy or Parcifal and Lizzie Rose in Laura Amy Schlitz’s Splendors and Glooms.
Get a second opinion:
Good Books and Good Wine — “Y’all, I recommend this audiobook WITH ALL OF MY HEART.”
The Adventures of Cecelia Bedelia — “This book resides somewhere in a land beyond endearing (is there a word for that place? maybe… idyllic?). It’s humorous, ridiculous, sweet, mysterious and altogether FUN.
The Cheap Reader — “To be honest, my favorite “character” is the narrator. He/she takes the story very serious even though it’s hilarious. I loved the little side notes sprinkled in the story.”